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A light in the darkness.
Over the next few days, we will offer further insight into why we picked the 10 games we did for the best of 2019, with each article going live on- site in order of the games' release dates. Then, on December 17, we will reveal which of the nominees gets to take home the coveted title of GameSpot's Best Game of 2019. So be sure to come back then for the big announcement, and in the meantime, follow along with all of our other end-of-the-year coverage collected in our Best of 2019 hub.
Love is a hard thing to get right in video games--especially when that love isn't presented as an RPG romance option or a dating sim, but rather a consistent undercurrent that elevates every aspect of the game in which you find it. There's little love between Amicia and her brother Hugo at the beginning of A Plague Tale: Innocence. Hugo has been hidden away from his sister due to his illness for the entirety of his five short years of life, but all of that changes when their home is attacked and it falls on Amicia to save the two of them as best she can.
It's a common sentiment in video games that escort missions are the worst, but leading Hugo through the threatening, plague-ridden countryside of France in pursuit of a cure is a thrilling, beautiful, and heartwarming experience. The performances from the main characters are extraordinarily affecting, whether it's when Hugo innocently asks during a frantic escape if he and his sister are going to die, when he finds flowers and puts them in Amicia's hair and tells her they're pretty, or when Amicia has to grapple with the devastation of needing to kill to protect herself and her brother. The genuine affection that develops between the two, particularly when things take a turn for the worst, is infectious and believable. When Hugo is in trouble you feel Amicia's panic and desperation, and your developing love for him makes seeing the story through feel essential and meaningful.
The strength of A Plague Tale's characters feed into the interesting ways you can engage in its combat encounters which evolve alongside your character development and progress. To great effect, each encounter is more of a puzzle than a toe-to-toe fight. Amicia is a glass cannon who is only able to sneak by her vastly stronger foes early on, but as the game wears on, her abilities become more diverse and unlock extremely satisfying options for combat. The swarms of rats, in particular, work both to establish the horrific sense of place and also become the most interesting tool to use in combat. Combat arenas gradually become more complicated, and mastering your abilities and knowledge of how to manipulate light--a rat's worst enemy--to your advantage is necessary to paving the way forward.
The effectiveness of A Plague Tale: Innocence's narrative is due to the sympathetic, unwilling heroes at its heart.
The effectiveness of A Plague Tale: Innocence's narrative is due to the sympathetic, unwilling heroes at its heart. Amicia and Hugo aren't adventurers. They aren't trying to solve a crime, take on a fabled adversary, or become warriors--they're victims of circumstance. Underdogs. Vulnerable to the violent, grisly world around them. As are the people who choose to join them. That isn't to say they aren't clever or bold or brave, but it means their fear is more palpable and their victories and escapes more triumphant. The allies you encounter are empathetic and learning about their backstories informs the harsh world around you. Having younger companions rely on you, particularly in the case of Hugo, enhances the tension in combat encounters, the fear of your environment where staying in the dark for too long puts you at risk of being devoured by rats, and the mental stakes if you fail in an attempt to be stealthy.
A Plague Tale: Innocence weaves a beautiful story about resilience and victory in the face of unbelievable odds, not out of arrogance or the desire to best an enemy, but because it is the only choice Amicia and Hugo can make. The quiet moments of discussion with Lucas and your ragtag group of collected wards and allies are an important contrast to the frantic and terrifying world that lies beyond. Between violent guards, merciless rats, and an almost unrelenting darkness, it's a game that should feel oppressive to play--but Hugo's optimistic naivety and the love he shares with Amicia are so touching that there is always a light to be found in the darkness.